When a band is made up of performers who have been in other bands or had solo releases, it’s tempting to say that the new entity is ‘more than the sum of its parts’, as if that new entity has conjured some kind of magic that wasn’t there in previous efforts. In the case of The New Graces and its members – Melanie Horsnell, Kate Burke and Robyn Martin – the sum is just as extraordinary as its parts would suggest.
Horsnell has released over ten albums, written songs with artists such as Catherine Britt and Wendy Matthews, and written music for film and television. Burke is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who has been in a folk duo and and Irish/Australian traditional band, and also works as a scientist and science communicator. Martin started playing bass at age 13 in the family band, and since then has played in many festivals, and with other artists. Individually their pedigrees are excellent, and combined they have almost immediately become a powerful force in Australian country and folk music, with the release of The New Graces’ first album, Seasons.
Lead vocal duties are shared across the twelve songs, with the other two singers contributing harmonies that enrich each song, bringing complexity and, often, robustness. These are songs with earth under their fingernails, lyrically and musically; songs of lives well and deeply lived, of land loved, of heartbreaks and wonders. These are the sorts of songs you’d hope to eventuate when three artists like this come together to create something new, but of course there’s no formula for joy – and listening to this album is truly a joyous experience, every single time.
While some works of art offer escape from the world, this album holds up real life and says: You can’t escape it, but there’s beauty here and we’ll show you. A lot of that beauty is in the execution of the songs: the way each singer understands what to offer to the song, either as the lead or in harmony; the ease with which they work together, the sort of ease that only comes from years of work; the fact that the songs are reassuring yet can also tilt you off your axis. Although the harmonies are glorious, this is actually not an album to make you comfortable. It wants to bring the listener close, and ask them to get inside the stories that are offered, to feel everything the singers feel. That makes for a whole-body and whole-heart experience, and one that can’t help leaving you wanting more, hoping there’s another album not far away – or even, one dares to hope, the chance to see The New Graces perform in person.